Here’s information on free tax prep services and avoiding tax scams
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Here’s information on free tax prep services and avoiding tax scams

It’s tax season and with that comes scammers.

But first, let’s talk about some places where income-eligible taxpayers or senior citizens can qualify for free tax help.

The Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs offer free basic tax return preparation to qualified individuals.

The VITA program helps people who generally make $60,000 or less, people with disabilities or taxpayers with limited-English-speaking skills. The TCE program helps those who are 60 years and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to older adults.

Betty Lin-Fisher

Betty Lin-Fisher

How to find free local assistance

To find the closest VITA or TCE location, go to https://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep or call 800-906-9887.

Some of the TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide program. use the AARP Site Locator Tool at www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide/locations.html or call 888-227-7669. Many of the AARP sites are at library and community center branches. A bonus: The AARP services are not limited to age or income restrictions and there’s also an option if you are preparing your own taxes to consult for free with an IRS-certified volunteer coach through the service. For more information, go to https://taxaide.aarpfoundation.org

Yet another option to find local free help is through the United Way of Summit and Medina’s 211 service, which can find you the closest free tax preparation site (often the ones above) and if you qualify. Go to www.uwsummitmedina.org/services/211/ or call 330-376-6660

Households with an adjusted gross income of less than $73,000 can also qualify for the IRS’ Free File system, which partners with online providers. Some also offer free state tax returns. Go to https://apps.irs.gov/app/freeFile

Advocates warn of fraud, missed benefits

Both the local Better Business Bureau and Community Legal Aid are warning taxpayers to beware of fraudsters.

Dana Goldstein, attorney with Community Legal Aid’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic, said filers are responsible for the information listed on their returns. False or inaccurate information can lead to problems with the IRS as well as state and local tax departments. Legal Aid does not offer free tax preparation, but often works with clients who are having issues with the IRS and need assistance.

She urged filers to have returns completed by someone who is both competent and trustworthy, citing particular concern for immigrant and refugee filers with limited English proficiency.

The Akron-based non-profit, which serves eight counties, has seen firsthand the harm done when tax preparation becomes a vehicle for fraud, he said. Scammers, who often hold a position of trusted authority within the immigrant community, may fabricate income, create false households, or wrongfully claim children on a return and then collect the fraudulent refunds for themselves, he said.

“Language barriers, cultural expectations, and trust issues can drive immigrants to rely on preparers who speak their native language or have a known connection with their community,” Goldstein said.

A fraudulent return not only gets the taxpayer in trouble with the IRS, it can threaten efforts to obtain citizenship, he said. Warning signs of a fraudulent preparer might include offering to prepare a return for free; promising a refund within 48 hours, promising a refund without reviewing documents, and a preparer who does not list their name or provide an Electronic Filing Identification Number (EFIN) number on the return.

Advocates are also encouraging caregivers to make sure they don’t miss out on the 2021 Expanded Child Tax Credit, which provided up to $3,600 per qualifying child; households did not need earned income to receive the benefit.

An online portal was provided so qualifying parents or caregivers could claim the credit if they were otherwise not required to file taxes. That portal was shut down in 2022, leading some to believe it was too late to claim the credit, but that is not the case, Legal Aid experts said.

Qualifying caregivers, such as grandparents or kinship care providers, who have minor children in their household in 2021 can still claim the credit by filing a 2021 tax return.

“The Expanded Child Tax Credit was a game-changer when it came to lifting children out of poverty,” Goldstein explained. “We want parents and caregivers to have every opportunity to claim any funds they are yet entitled to receive,” she said.

Avoid IRS impersonation scams

The Better Business Bureau of Akron is also a warning of impersonation scams, which repeat each year, but with a slightly different spin. “The central theme is scammers posing as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) trying to trick people into paying money or sharing personal information,” the BBB said.

Be careful of emails that may be W-2 email scams, the BBB said. Verify the information is really coming from your employer. If you can’t verify the source of the email, it’s probably a scam.

The BBB also reminds consumers that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media to request personal or financial information. Watch for aggressive tactics, such as threats and requests for unusual payment methods. Consumers pay the IRS directly.

Beware of jury scam

A jury scam has resurfaced in our community, according to Summit County Common Pleas Court Administrative Judge Kathryn Michael.

Residents have been receiving a phone call from someone claiming to be from law enforcement. The caller usually refers to the recipient’s failure to appear for jury service, demands payment of a fine and threatens arrest.

Michael said when a juror misses scheduled jury service, the Summit County Jury Commissioner’s Office will send a letter asking the juror to contact the office to reschedule jury service. Residents are never contacted by phone regarding a missed jury service date, he said. No law enforcement officer would ever call a resident or demand payment for missed jury service, she said.

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or[email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter orwww.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: free local tax prep help? Here’s how to find help, avoid scams;elm:context_link;itc:0″ class=”link “>Need free local tax prep help? Here’s how to find help, avoid scams

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